Thinking about jobs I’ve had, people I’ve known, the best and the worst employment opportunities, I remembered being a marine scientist.
In January, three years ago, I traveled to
Being on the water in January is usually cold enough to numb your hands, without the constant spray from the hose, but the wind picked up as the afternoon wore on, and the temperature dropped into the low 20s. In between plugs, I jumped up and down in my raingear bib overalls, my hands under my armpits. Keep working, keep moving, make the fingers bend, only 20 more to go…
Shivering and seasick, I hardly noticed the snow beginning to fall until the boat pulled in to the harbor. It was dark, and the crew left to get dinner, leaving us to finish making up our samples under the dock light. I grew to dislike the sound of sand being scraped from a metal bowl by a metal spoon. After a time, I stopped shivering, and my fingers could no longer grip the sample bottle lids to screw them down. I used my palms. From one moment to the next, I forgot what I was doing. Weren’t we done? No, still have to split the samples from the 32nd run into the 33rd – or something, I’d lost coherent thought by that time. I don’t even remember getting from the barge to the hotel.
I have never felt anything as simultaneously painful and wonderful as that bath. Taking my clothes off seemed to take hours. My rubber boots almost went into the bath with me; I had so much trouble pulling them off my numb feet. I couldn’t tell the temperature of the water, but trusted that the steam meant hot. Anything had to be warmer than I was, but I added a dollop of cold in case the water heaters were turned on to kitchen-scald. As I lowered myself into the tub I could not feel my hands or feet, my rear was numb, and my face tingled. My back felt the heat, but in an arm-asleep way, which quickly lost its novelty as the rest of my nerves thawed awake screaming. I was beet red from head to toe in a matter of seconds - and it was glorious! Thousands of needles stabbed my flesh, and I couldn’t keep my breathing regular. Slowly the ice melted and I could bend my fingers.
I fell asleep that night feeling like a bowl of tapioca pudding, fresh out of the microwave.